Ten More Singing Wells Stories

I had a chance to meet with a good friend yesterday to talk about Singing Wells.  As usual, I just couldn’t help telling stories.   And I told her the one sad fact of Singing Wells – we have at least 250 stories, one for every video of a performance, and yet we are miserable at getting these stories out to folks.  But we will keep trying… Here’s a few of the 250 stories – pull up a chair:

The Batwa:  Providing a Soundtrack to the Costs of ‘Simple Solutions’

The Batwa are a forest people living in the dense forests along the base of the Virunga Volcanoes.  They were evicted from the forest to make way for the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park near Kisoro Uganda, which was established to protect the Mountain Gorillas that habitate in the park (travelling back and forth across the Uganda-Rwanda border).   The Batwa are a marginalised people, living mostly by tenant farming in scattered villages around Kisoro.   They live on the poorest land, and in many cases this means land high up in the green hills of Uganda far from trading villages.   Our visit to record the Batwa was supported by UOBDU.    What we discovered in the Batwa was musicians of extraordinary talent and their music provides a soundtrack for the costs of all simple solutions; well-intentioned actions to protect an animal species have marginalised thousands of forest people who have lost their homes, their culture, their livelihoods… We recorded them in their villages and invited them back to our studios in Nairobi to work with some of Kenya’s best musicians.   We maintain a great relationship with our Batwa friends and recently invited Jovah to meet us last year in Entebbe to record with additional Ugandan artists (see lullabies below).  Here are three vocalists:

Meet Francis, the leader of the Batwa musical communities, the master of the bird dance and master of songs about the plight of the Batwa that you can close your eyes and imagine being played in a Beatnik bar in sixties NYC.

Meet Jovah, who we first recorded in her village, where she performed with Winyo and later brought to the studio to record with London Strings.

Meet Tiny Moses, with his hand made guitar and bass player that ‘beat box’s into a clay pot…

Ugandan Lullabies

We brought Jovah to Entebbee in Autumn 2013 to record with other tribal musicians from around Uganda.    The musicians merged their tribal lullabies into a single song.  The first vocalist is Jovah.  The second is Passy, who we discovered in Kidinda (click here for her village performance) and the third is James who is single handedly trying to save Busoga Royal Music (see bel0w).  They are accompanied by Matia Kakumirizi, Uganda’s coolest guitarist (click here for his solo work that we recorded in same session):

The Royal Instruments of Uganda

As mentioned, James is working to restore the royal instruments of Uganda.   He supports the Bugando Musican Ensemble, which we recorded (click here) and he is trying to restore the  The Bigwala (trumpet).  There are few surviving musicians and we recorded some of the few players surviving.  But what we loved about Uganda is all the great the instrument bands, from the Xylophone, to the Likembe, to the Adungu to the Calabash.  When you hear these bands live you are awash in sound as 5-10 instruments, sized for multiple octaves, overwhelm you.   So here are a few of our favourites:
The Xylophone:  One of the Royal Instruments.  Here is a whole village dedicated to the music and dance of their instrument

The Adungu: One of the most beautiful Ugandan instruments; here we show the video of a performance with one of our Influences artists,  Jackie Akello

The Likembe:  The ‘Thumb Piano.’   This is the Macedonia Band, and their song Uganda Land of Freedom.  Elsewhere, I’ve told the story of how this song became the music of survival during the rebellion years…(click here)

The Calabash:  Here’s one of our favourite bands in Uganda and one that shows that the music is still thriving in parts of Uganda because the young people are still a part…(in sad contrast to so much of Kenya)

The Youth, the Music, the Village & Development

Elsewhere, we have argued that a good musical group is a good proxy for a strong village and a strong village is critical to the development of Africa.   A great way to know you have a good musical group is when you see the youth are still involved and passionate.  The songs, so many of them about rites of passage, about courtship, demand the strength, the energy, the naive joy of youth (we’ve also pointed out that many of the songs also demand darkness, as they are stories and dances to be performed in and of the shadows of a village fire – but that is another story for another time).   Below, we give you two good news groups, where the young are central to the music, one in Uganda, one in Kenya:


We are struck by how many young people remain involved in village music in Uganda.  Here’s an example and show how we do ‘Magic Moments’ where we ask performers to do  a ‘one minute’ performance of their favourite bit of song or dance.


In contrast to Uganda, Kenya’s musical groups are aging and dying out.  But we found one extraordinary ‘boy’s group’ and their energy is seductive.  They told us the full story of Male Circumcision rites, which this performance shows, here.



  • The Possibility of Benga Everywhere:  We tell you the story of Benga because we see the possibility of Benga and African Twist emerging from every tribal musician we hear.  Listen to this performance and imagine any modern Indie group seizing the style, the tension, the edge that Muturi Wa Wandindi captures in his masterpiece Soge (and this is the tube fiddle, the sister instrument of the Orutu which inspired Benge in the Luo tribes):


  • The Otacho Young Stars and the Sadness of Joyous Praise:    Travelling around Africa you always pray a little to the gods above that Africans would enjoy the benefits of a few more responsible folks with power, in power.  And then we ran into the Otacho Young Stars, one of the hippest and happenin’ Luo bands around (who we discovered and brought back the studios to record).  Here is the most simple, but to me, one of the most profound African songs ever written.  It is a simple song, a tribute to the local sugar factory manager.  They are singing his high praises for… doing his job.  I love this!

  • Influences:  what can happen when we fuse this music.   These are just two humble examples of what can happen when you start bringing these musicians to the studio.  If you only have a minute (and by this time you’re probably out of minutes) skip to the middle of these songs to see interesting things start happening:

71 Hours to Monday

A silly little song that gets hi-jacked in the third verse and taken lord knows where…


A song about Spain that switches to Africa and ends with the Batwa song lamenting the loss of their homelands…

That’s it.   There are 230 more stories that we need to tell you and 1000’s more waiting to be recorded.  Don’t just pull up a chair next time.  Jump in our jeeps and join the show…